Guest opinion: Carbon pollutions standards good for Montana business

2013-11-21T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Carbon pollutions standards good for Montana businessBy CONOR DARBY The Billings Gazette
November 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The Environmental Protection Agency developing the nation’s first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants. As small business owners and Montanans, we hail these new standards for their potential to expand economic opportunities in Montana by driving innovation and accelerating clean energy development.

The purpose of the new standards is to address climate change by reducing carbon pollution from the biggest sources: power plants. According to the Energy Information Administration, power plants are responsible for one-third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

As renewable energy installers, we are optimistic because industry-wide carbon standards will not only reduce carbon pollution, they will help accelerate Montana’s growing clean energy economy. We can address climate change and increase economic opportunity at the same time. This is not a zero-sum game.

From 2011 to 2012 solar energy production in the U.S grew by 49 percent and wind energy capacity grew by 16 percent. In Montana, wind energy capacity has grown from less than 2 megawatts in 2005 to over 600 megawatts this year.

Renewable energy’s dramatic growth is directly related to its low costs. The Department of Energy’s latest data shows that the average price of wind is just over 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. Rooftop solar costs fell by 13 percent last year and continue to drop. Coal generated power averages 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, but this figure does not account for coal’s air pollution, health impacts, and global warming costs. With these costs included, the cost of coal increases to over 9 cents per kilowatt-hour — more than double the cost of wind power. Renewable energy doesn’t have these hidden costs because it doesn’t emit pollutants that cause asthma, smog and global warming.

Renewable energy has already proven that it is up to the task of meeting our energy needs at a lower cost and without damaging our environment, or making our families sick.

Businesses like ours are also up to the task of providing jobs in a low-carbon, clean energy economy. Renewable energy has already provided 1,500 construction jobs and more than 200 permanent jobs in Montana. Carbon pollution standards will help expand renewable energy job opportunities as demand for cleaner energy increases. This means that renewable energy businesses will hire more people and pump more money into the local economy. According to a Synapse Energy Economics study, Montana can expect to gain about 3,600 jobs from carbon pollution standards.

We’ve already seen that clean energy can benefit Montana’s economy. We’ve only begun to tap our state’s enormous solar and wind resources. The new carbon pollution standards will unleash innovation, expand low-cost clean energy solutions, and create good-paying jobs. We have a lot to be optimistic about.

Conor Darby of Solstice Energy Systems in Bozeman collaborated with three other business people on this commentary: Ben Reed of Winpower West in Billings; Henry Dykema, Sundance Solar Systems of Red Lodge, and Rip Hamilton, Solar Plexus of Missoula.

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